Priests and laity in India boycott Vatican appointee

Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese officials’ move may amount to ‘defying papal authority’

Lay people in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamly in the southern Indian state of Kerala pledge not to allow Arhcbihsop Andrews Thazhath, the Apostolic Administrator, to enter the house of the Archbishop, accusing him of deceiving the Vatican against their interest in a long-running liturgical dispute. October 16. (Photo provided)

Posted: Oct 19, 2022 10:38 GMT

Updated: October 19, 2022 at 11:08 GMT

Some half a million Catholics and 450 priests in southern India have severed ties with their apostolic administrator, further aggravating the five-decade-long liturgical dispute within the Syro-Malabar Eastern Rite Church. .

Officials from the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese based in the southern state of Kerala said the majority of Catholics and priests there had cut official ties with the Vatican-appointed administrator, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath.

The decision was made at a meeting of some 250 priests at the archdiocese on October 18.

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Archbishop Andrews Thazhath is ‘unfit for office’ and the archdiocesan priest will not report to him or obey his instructions on pastoral duties, says an official communication from Fr. Jose Vailikodath, Senior Priest and Public Relations Officer of the Protection Committee of the Archdiocese (of the priests).

The priests, in a resolution passed, declared that “the administrator or his acolytes shall not be invited to any parish or other Church-run institution” and ended the practice of reporting by priests to the Archdiocese on any question connected with the administration of parishes, even those which require the consent of the archbishop.

A canon law expert, who does not want to be quoted, said the development should be seen as “a very serious decision which would have an unexpected impact on priests”.

“It amounts to severing ties with the hierarchy and challenging papal authority. These are very serious violations. I don’t know if the priests act with the kind of conscience that they should have here,” he said, asking not to publish his name.

This dramatic turn of events took place after Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the Apostolic Administrator entered the Archbishop’s home on the night of October 17 with the help of the police following an open threat from lay people who they would not allow him to enter there for his alleged treason.

They had previously launched a 24-hour vigil around the Archbishop’s house beginning October 16.

When the priests learned that the administrator had entered the Archbishop’s house with the help of the police, they rushed there and asked the prosecutor who summoned the police on the instruction of Archbishop Thazhath to withdraw the force.

The priests also threatened to stay in the archdiocese until the police were finally withdrawn under pressure.

Meanwhile, the priests also passed a resolution announcing a permanent boycott of Archbishop Thazhath and his followers with immediate effect. They also condemned the administrator’s action of turning the Archbishop’s house into a “raj police” (police rule).

Priests have further decided to end parish contributions to the Archdiocese, not to share any information about the parish with the Archbishop (administrator) or take any orders from him, Fr. Vailikodath says.

Matters that required the archbishop’s permission, the priest said in a statement, “would be decided at the Forane level,” deepening the ongoing standoff between the archdiocese and the Syro-Malabar Church synod in course of the mass of several decades. litigation in the archdiocese.

The liturgical dispute dates back almost five decades when the Church launched a review of its liturgy. The simmering controversy was reignited in August 2021 when the synod decided to implement its 1999 decision to introduce uniformity of Mass in all dioceses to bring more unity among its members.

The Church’s 35 dioceses, except for the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, began following the Synod-approved Mass from last November.

Archbishop Thazhath on Sept. 30 imposed the liturgical pattern approved by the synod of bishops that requires priests to face the altar against the congregation during Eucharistic prayer until Communion.

The prelate left the archdiocese shortly after this announcement with the help of the police. But priests and laity in the archdiocese have insisted on continuing their traditional Mass, in which the celebrant faces the congregation throughout.

Priests and laity have accused Bishop Thazhath of misleading the Vatican by suppressing signed documents from parishes and more than 400 priests in the Archdiocese in favor of the traditional Mass.

They also said that the Prelate imposed the Synodal Mass in the Archdiocese without consulting the canonical bodies even after assuring the laity and priests that he would consult them.

The priests continued to offer mass facing the congregation in complete defiance of the administrator’s order.

The priests, in their resolution, said the administrator had disregarded the views of 500,000 worshipers and 450 priests in the archdiocese and vowed to sever all contact with him.

They also claimed that among the 460 priests in the archdiocese, 377 had signed the resolution to boycott the administrator while the rest except 10 priests had given their support as they could not sign as they were absent.

Riju Kanjookaran, the spokesperson for the Archdiocesan Transparency Movement (AMT) told UCA News on October 19, “We the people and priests stand together on this sensitive issue of the Mass and will not compromise.”

Priests and laity have called on the Vatican to grant “variant liturgical” status to their traditional Mass and end the dispute in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Father Antony Vadakkekara VC, the spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, did not respond to calls and text messages from UCA News.

Many Church officials, however, said the laity were worried due to the revolt of priests and laity leading to a breaking point.

The Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly is the largest diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church with more than half a million faithful, almost 10% of the 5.5 million people of the Eastern Rite Church .

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